Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
The new appointments to counter home-grown terrorism are a clever and politically astute move that will facilitate the national debate we need to have about Islamist radicalisation.
Australia has a long and successful track record of integrating migrants. Welcoming attitudes on the whole, combined with the determination of newcomers to make a go of life in their adopted country, mean that most migrants have self-integrated without threatening social cohesion.
Yet it appears this process has gone wrong with a significant minority of Australian Muslims. This is a difficult issue to discuss because many in the community are uncomfortable about singling out ethnic or religious groups. Hence those who raise the subject of Muslim integration are often accused of bigotry and racism.
The fact that we now have a Minister for Counter-Terrorism sends the powerful message that discussing these issues is legitimate and important. But what the policy response should be to prevent radicalisation is the more difficult question.
Part of the problem is that the integration of migrants has largely been an informal process. Common schools, shared places of worship, and inter-marriage are among the key factors that have successfully helped knit the social fabric across racial and cultural lines.
The workplace has also been an important place where barriers have been broken down and people from different backgrounds have learned to get along. Many Muslims are not exposed to these forces because they worship at the local mosque, attend Islamic schools, and marry only other Muslims.
Attention has thus been drawn to high unemployment among certain Muslim groups to suggest that social disadvantage is the major cause of radicalisation. Many are attracted to the ‘disadvantage causes radicalisation’ thesis but this avoids the need to think about the role played by religion.
Because secular elites tend not to take religious belief seriously as a social and political force, they assume that others also treat religion as essentially a private matter. But we can hardly dismiss the importance of religious motivations when we are considering what to do about self-professed jihadists.
Youth unemployment in Australia is a ballooning issue that needs to be properly addressed. Over half a million young Australians are not in employment, education or training.
Although targeted assistance to help make ends meet and address skill shortages should not be ruled out, other market-oriented approaches must be part of the solution.
For starters, an effective way to deal with the problem in Australia would be to get rid of our byzantine system of industrial relation awards, which demands prohibitive penalty rates for young workers.
There is no compelling ethical cause for such a hindrance to youth job creation.
For young students, weekend and night shifts are predominantly the only feasible ones that do not clash with class times. For someone who is not in employment, education or training, and probably struggling to make ends meet, a Sunday work shift cannot be not deemed a plausible inconvenience. It is in fact a real blessing in which vital work ethics and basic professional skills (team work, discipline and maturity) are developed — not to mention the extra income.
Due to a prohibitive penalty rate regime, the minimum casual pay for a 20-year-old in the lowest employee level in the fast food industry is $29/hr on a Sunday (or a substantial $46/hr on public holidays). Similar pay levels (if not higher) can also be found in many other industries that are a gateway for young job starters.
These exorbitant price floors certainly do not help the youth unemployment cause. In fact, both employers and potential young workers are penalised as would-be job positions are shut due to such interventionist, unnecessary regulation constraints.
More choice and freedom to contract at whatever rates please both parties would be the best (and fairest) form to assist young jobseekers to put a foot in the labour market. After all, there is no better welfare program than a job.
‘With respect, that is a nonsense figure that you continue to trot out that you made up yourselves….’ those were the blunt wordsEmma Alberici put to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, generating almost as muchcontroversy as the budget itself.
While much comment has focused on the style of questioning by Alberici and her colleague Leigh Sales, some interesting issues remain largely unexplored.
For example: how responsible are the media for holding politicians to account?
The evolving media landscape has wrought massive changes in how politicians communicate and journalists operate. The 24 hour news cycle has pushed politicians more than ever into the trusty sheaf of talking points, stifling real debate on issues of policy.
Meanwhile, media cutbacks have made it tougher for journalists to master policy areas and really challenge ministers on the facts and ideas, leading instead to the cheap theatre of ‘gotcha’ journalism.
As voters we desperately need someone to put the blowtorch to politicians, even if this comes at the expense of their feelings. If anything, we could criticise the ABC for not going harder on more politicians more often, especially those promoting unfunded feel-good policies.
Which brings us to a second ignored question: how much deference is due to politicians?
One of the great features of Australian democracy is that politicians are not put on a pedestal above the voter; a practical egalitarianism that has served the country well.
While not unique to Australia, it is at least unusual by international standards, where politicians often come from dynasties (eg the Bush family) or fantastic wealth (Italy’s Berlusconi). They are separated from the reality of ordinary people’s lives.
Australia risks losing something valuable if we become unduly deferential to the political class. Government by the people becomes government for the people.
There is no question that any politician being interviewed deserves a basic level of respect, and we can debate whether Alberici or Sales crossed the line.
But we should also applaud that in this country someone can ask the Treasurer how they can look Australians in the eye having not lived up to their promises. It might just mean that one day politicians start living up to them!